THE Sony WH-1000XM4 is the new generation of the most sophisticated noise canceling headphone of the Japanese brand. The previous model already marked all the boxes of a good product, offering convincing sound quality, long battery life and the most efficient insulation technology I have ever experienced. Could I improve?
Charging R $ 2,429, Sony decided to follow the safe path, without profound changes in design or speakers. Still, the company promises a more comfortable headset, with even better noise cancellation and features so you don’t even have to take the headphone out of your head anymore. Is it worth it? I tested the Sony WH-1000XM4 in the last few weeks and I tell you everything in this review.
Sony WH-1000XM4 video review
THE Tecnoblog is a technology-independent journalistic vehicle that helps people make their next purchase decision since 2005. Our product reviews are opinionated and have no advertising intent. For this reason, we always transparently highlight the positive and negative points of each product.
No company, manufacturer or store has paid the Tecnoblog to produce this content. Our reviews are not reviewed or approved by external agents. The WH-1000XM4 was provided by Sony on loan. The product will be returned to the company after testing.
Design and comfort
At first glance, the WH-1000XM4 is identical to the WH-1000XM3. The color scheme is the same (only rosé gold has been abandoned), touch controls are still here and connectivity options too, with a USB-C port to charge the battery, a 3.5mm jack to plug in a wire and an NFC on the left shell to quickly connect to a compatible smartphone.
The difference was in the details: Sony reduced the thickness of the top cushion and made the foams on each side more oval, better distributing the pressure on the head. For me, the headphone remains relatively comfortable to wear for several hours straight, but it is still behind the old Bose QuietComfort 35 II, which is 20 grams lighter and exerts less pressure around my ears.
Despite not being the best in comfort and not using any material from another world in construction, it is a fact that Sony delivers a respectable design. Everything is very well fitted, without looseness and with great sensation to the touch. And the carrying case that comes with the WH-1000XM4 is compact and very rigid, with one hand on the wheel to take the headset for any trip. At least when the pandemic is over.
Software and functions
Perhaps the best news is in the software. If the WH-1000XM3 was a good headset, the WH-1000XM4 is a good wearable device. Sony has clearly endeavored to develop features so that you no longer need to take the headphone out of your head. Still, when you take it off, a new sensor allows you to pause the music when the headset is not in use, which helps save battery.
Quick Attention, which temporarily lowers the volume of the music and disables noise cancellation for you to talk to someone, just by placing your hand on the right shell, remains available. But now there is the Talking mode, which looks like witchcraft: as soon as you start speaking, the WH-1000XM4 enters attention mode alone, pausing the music and allowing you to hear the other person’s voice.
Talking to Sony’s marketing manager, Ana Malerbi, she explained to me that the technology is based on machine learning and learns the user’s voice in up to two days. In my tests, the feature worked from day one, even in the low sensitivity mode, which was more suitable indoors. Of course, Talking mode has limitations: it also came into play when I hummed a song, so you may need to disable the feature manually on occasion.
The Sony app can now use your phone’s GPS location to decide when to activate, reduce or even turn off noise cancellation, but I was unable to test this feature because we are in times of social detachment, so it’s time for a next opportunity.
What I was able to test and which makes sense considering that more people are working from home is the multiple pairing, a function that has been in competition for a long time and was absent in the 1000X line. In my case, I left the headset paired with the notebook to listen to music and, whenever necessary, he switched to the cell phone to answer a call, for example. The feature was quite flawed in the early days and did not work properly on the iPhone, but a firmware update fixed the problem.
For anyone interested in alphabet soup, a notable absence of the WH-1000XM4 is Qualcomm’s aptX codec, which existed in the previous generation and has been removed. IOS users should not notice any problems, as the codec used has always been AAC, but Android owners with more sensitive ears may experience a slight deterioration in quality in SBC mode. It is worth remembering that the high resolution LDAC codec is still available, but does not work in double pairing mode.
Sound and microphone quality
The sound of the WH-1000XM4 is full-bodied, with long and deep bass, which are quite fun in pop music, but can sound a bit exaggerated for those who prefer a more open sound and not as hot, as is my case. The impact of low frequencies, which was also seen in the previous model, is quite noticeable in the beats of Call You Mine of the Chainsmokers. The energy in the presentation is also strong in the Contact, by Daft Punk.
Being full-bodied does not mean that details are left out. The mediums are reproduced with all their nuances and have good instrumental separation, passing my test of the chorus of One Last Breath, by Creed, with vocals, guitars and cymbals that would easily turn into an acorn of noise in inferior quality headphones. I also really like the texture of the violin at the beginning of Four Seasons Vivaldi’s: sharp, but not uncomfortable.
A novelty is the DSEE Extreme, an evolution of the DSEE HX, which tries to improve the sound quality by bringing back details that were lost in songs with compression. Honestly, I don’t feel any significant difference with the activated feature, but at least it doesn’t make the sound experience worse as in the WF-1000XM3, which added grain to female voices. In my tests, DSEE Extreme was always on.
The quality of the microphone is within what I expect from a Bluetooth headset, in other words, it’s just ok. Even with a new technology called Precise Voice Pickup, the voice continues to have a slight metallic appearance, typical of compression, which can impair the understanding of some words. Still, it is less worse than the previous generation and allows the person on the other end of the line to understand you satisfactorily well.
Noise and battery cancellation
Active noise cancellation is one of the highlights of the 1000X line and is really good. Unlike what I did in past generations of Sony headphones, I was unable to test the feature on an airplane for obvious reasons, but the WH-1000XM4 did very well in eliminating everyday noise.
Like other ANC technologies, the phone does not work miracles with more high-pitched and fickle sounds, like people talking and construction noises next to it, but it is noticeably better than the WH-1000XM3. For those who work in offices with many people or live in a busy street, with engines and sirens passing occasionally, just play a song at low volume that the headphone isolates you from the outside world.
The battery, whose promise of autonomy is 30 hours, was well below that in my tests, but it is still good. With volume at 50% (which is a good level for an indoor environment) and connected to an iPhone 11 Pro Max and MacBook Pro at the same time, using the AAC codec, the WH-1000XM4 was able to play music in multiple sessions which totaled approximately 21 hours before shutting down due to lack of charge.
And fast charging is really efficient: with just 30 minutes plugged into the USB-C, the battery was zero to 60% in my tests. Sony promises 5 hours of music with 10 minutes of charge and you can even expect something very close to that.
The new headset from Sony is an excellent refinement compared to the WH-1000XM3, which was already considered by many people to be the best in its category. The manufacturer has not reinvented the wheel at any time: all we have are small improvements in audio, design and, of course, noise cancellation. Although not a change from water to wine, the WH-1000XM4 is really good at eliminating everyday noise, like side conversations.
Sony delivers a very complete set: the headset is comfortable, has useful features, controls that work well and a sound presentation that should please most people. For those who are not so puristic, the WH-1000XM4 is very versatile in equalization, so you can lower the bass a little if you think they appear too much, or lower the other frequencies to create an even hotter mood.
The price of the WH-1000XM4 is the same as the previous generation in dollars, but the value in reais increased according to the exchange variation in the period, reaching R $ 2,429, which is certainly well above what the average Brazilian can afford. However, for those who have the financial means to afford this headphone, it is difficult to regret it: if Sony was already the queen of the category since the previous model, it only secured its crown in 2020.